87th session ends with few victories for GOP, Texans

by | Jun 2, 2021 | Policy, Texas Legislature

The walkout by Democratic lawmakers on Sunday night to kill Gov. Greg Abbott’s favorite voter suppression bill was a fitting end to a dramatic legislative session that had no business being dramatic.

Entering session amid a pandemic, economic recession, recovering oil prices, and days after a rightwing mob stormed the Capitol building, it made complete sense (or at least was cathartic to believe) that the type of hyper-reactionary partisanship seen in Washington during Trump’s tenure would fizzle out in Texas, perhaps in favor of a political climate that would see lawmakers unite, however uneasily, in favor of sorting out more pressing issues at hand. 

But in a never-ending sign of the times, Texas Republicans did the opposite. After giddily rubber-stamping a diet version of the state budget, they turned their attention to placating the base of Trump voters that are now the permanent majority among their party. 

The result was some of the most egregiously far-right legislation to come out of Austin in recent memory, from the permitless carry of handguns, the banning of critical race theory teachings in school, to a prohibition on abortion after just six weeks of pregnancy. 

Instances of bipartisanship that benefited all Texans, like the expansion of internet broadband or funding of a coastal storm surge barrier, felt few and far in-between.

Inexcusably, there was no sweeping pandemic recovery bill, and the legislature’s solution to preventing another grid failure (passed as an afterthought on the last day of session) felt more like a strongly worded letter to natural gas suppliers than a major overhaul of Texas’ isolated electrical grid.

For the most part, there was plenty of spoiled red meat. Democrats dug deep trenches and transformed the entire session into a tedious grind for Republicans, unleashing an endless barrage of questions, amendments, delays, and points of order. In actuality, the weekend’s bombastic filibuster and legislative strike were just the tip of the iceberg for how the minority party frequently reminded Republicans that Democrats made up a little under half of all members in the lower chamber.

As critical legislative deadlines flew by, much of the overwhelmed Republican agenda was left behind in the dust, including bills to criminalize homelessness and trans youth healthcare, and legislation to crack down on local worker protections and progressive bail reform efforts. 

The session ending in a cliffhanger and a victory lap for Democrats has infuriated Abbott, and he is now threatening to defund the legislature for failing to deliver on some of his emergency items, namely bail reform and election security. Simply put, Abbott is holding one branch of the government hostage until a bill that makes it more difficult to vote and allows elections to be overturned reaches his desk.

With that insane move in mind, there’s little doubt that if Texas, whom Abbott frequently boasts is the world’s ninth-largest economy, were actually an independent nation (as many of its most loose screws petition for), headlines from the U.S. about the Lone Star State would probably read something like this: “Unpopular Far-Right Despot Cracks Down on Congress and Voting Ahead of Elections.”

Anyways, at least one special session addressing redistricting and $16 billion in federal COVID-19 recovery money is guaranteed, and Republican leaders are already promising to reanimate much of this session’s failed legislation. 

By the time lawmakers meet in the fall to figure out how to stimulate the Texas economy and prevent further suffering, thousands of Texans will have already been evicted from their homes and more small business will have shuttered their doors.

This a nightmare scenario for Abbott, who is facing historically tough approval/disapproval numbers and is up for reelection in 2022, but it’s especially hellish for working Texans whose federal benefits have expired. 

It’s not worth reading into the tea leaves as to what awaits in 2022, but this session should at least be proof that the post-Trump Republican Party is a very different beast that is here to stay. After all, if a global pandemic and the death of tens of thousands of Texans cannot stop the party’s culture war-driven goose walk to the right, it’s likely nothing ever will. 

fernando@texassignal.com | + posts

Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at fernando@texassignal.com

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